Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

ICANN head warns against putting Internet addresses under UN control

The head of the U.S.-monitored organization in charge of assigning global internet addresses such as .com and .net has cautioned against proposals to put the group under UN or other international control.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), at the heart of global debate over who should run the Internet, is the closest thing the vast system of intertwined computer networks has to any central authority.

Countries such as Iran and Brazil have argued ICANN, which was founded in 1998 under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Commerce and still reports partly to the U.S. government, should cede its authority to a global body such as the United Nations.

Story continues below advertisement

"If you think of that rate, or pace, in technology, it's just a lot more rapid than most traditional forms of policy development would be suited to," Rod Beckstrom, the organisation's chief executive, told Reuters on Monday.

Multilateral state control could make ICANN less nimble, he said, and therefore less likely to quickly develop technologies like Arabic-language domain names that feed rapidly expanding Internet demand.

"It's hard to imagine any replacement for (the current system), and I feel I can say that somewhat objectively because I've worked for government as well," he said, adding such a decision would be up to ICANN's board of directors.

Still, the U.S. government last September agreed to changes that meant ICANN would no longer report solely to the United States, part of a push to give global constituents more say.

The agreement set up an international review team to monitor ICANN's performance and it is due to issue initial recommendations at the end of the year. The deal also included guidelines aimed at making the group more transparent.

In 2003 a group of nations suggested ICANN come under the authority of the International Telecommunication Union, a UN agency, but that move stumbled on the view that the private sector is better able to run the Internet's addressing system.

A contract that gives ICANN authority over much of the Internet's basic plumbing, such as allocating Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, is up for review next year.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Beckstrom was in Cairo after Egypt became one of the first countries to win approval to use Arabic script on its national domain name, the last part of the address after the dot. ICANN approved use of non-Latin scripts in October.

Egypt said this month it had launched the first domain name using Arabic letters under the name .misr - the Arabic word for Egypt, which is spelt in Arabic script.

Countries including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have so far won ICANN approval to use their national language scripts on the top-level domain.

ICANN is now on track to broaden the non-Latin script, top-level domain names that are available into generic names such as .org, Beckstrom said.

"Of course you know .com and .net. Those are English language names that are shortened, basically. Where's the equivalent of that in Arabic?" he said. He said ICANN might be able to introduce generic domain names in international scripts by the end of this year, but the approval process made dates hard to forecast.

Report an error
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles as we switch to a new provider. We are behind schedule, but we are still working hard to bring you a new commenting system as soon as possible. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to